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Coles’ push to make pokies safer falls on deaf ears

Pokies $1 limit
WELL, here’s a first.

A gaming company that could hurt its bottom line by being proactive in protecting problem gamblers?

That’s what supermarket giant Wesfarmers wants to do.

But, do you think the industry is helping?

Yeah right.

The Financial Review reports Wesfarmers, which runs some 3000 poker machines through Coles’ hotel chains, wants to introduce electronic gaming machines with $1 bet limits.

But a request from Wesfarmers to five major poker machine manufacturers to help it trial the limits on its machines didn’t fall on deaf ears – they reportedly flat out refused.

Wesfarmers wrote to Aristocrat, IGT, Konami, SG Gaming and Ainsworth Game Technology, but all five refused, with reason ranging from cost to the need for an ‘industry-wide’ approach.

The paper quotes Coles chief executive John Durkan as being frustrated that the manufacturers were unwilling to help in the trial and said their responses to his requests were a “smokescreen.”

“Us moving to ($1 limits) would have an impact on the rest of the industry and this is why we are not getting the manufacturers to help us,” Durkan said.

“Coles is determined to do it.

“We just have to find a way”.

The massive move by Coles provides a major shake up for the electronic gaming machine industry and pits it and its 89 pubs and hotels against Woolworths on another level outside of supermarkets.

Woolworths’ massive ALH Group is Australia’s largest poker machine owner, overseeing more than 12,000 machines in over 300 hotels across the country, jointly with the billionaire Mathieson family.

The Productivity Commission has long held the view that a $1 cap on poker machines should be instilled, with a report in 2010 estimating that problem gamblers accounted for some 40 per cent of Australia’s total losses.

Wesfarmers has the backing of the powerful Alliance for Gambling Reform, which features anti gambling crusader Tim Costello and defiant Senator Nick Xenophon.

With laws in place that prohibit anyone by the machines’ manufacturers from making changes to the way they function, Senator Xenophon told AFN he was staggered that a company as big as Wesfarmers was being thwarted.

“It seems to me I would be looking for urgent legislative reform and I would want to get the numbers for a Senate inquiry, and get the manufacturers in front of me to explain why they can’t do it,” Senator Xenophon said.

Whatever happens, this could be a watershed moment in the constant too and fro between gambling regulators and companies, with an operator actually wanting to tackle the issue of problem gambling head on.

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